Day 3 |
Jan 05, 2012

En route to Antarctica

By Franz Bairlein, Ornithologist

Coordinates (08:00 a.m.): 61°14'S, 58°12'W
Weather: Overcast, light snowfall, calm
Air temperature: 0.1°C
Air pressure: 988 hPa
Wind: 10 km/h; 344 degree

Out on the deck with a few early risers, we appreciated a brilliant morning with an almost flat sea and some blue sky in the southeast on our way to the South Shetlands. Despite the calm conditions, quite a few cape and giant petrels and a black-browed albatross followed the vessel. Then two humpback whales appeared! The Captain and his Bridge crew slowed down the Silver Explorer and for almost an hour we appreciated the whales that seemed to want to “play” with the vessel, enabling us fantastic up-close views. Along with the whales were a number of seabirds, including Antarctic prion, southern fulmar, Wilson’s and black-bellied storm-petrels, and our first Antarctic terns. The scenery became even nicer with some light snowfall, giving us a real feeling of Antarctica.

The rest of the morning was then filled with bio-security checks and later on by a lecture on life in the southern ocean by our naturalist Shoshanah Jacobs. The sky cleared and offered a beautiful sunny afternoon on the outer decks while the Silver Explorer sailed south, passing King George Island of the South Shetland Islands en route to the Weddell Sea. After lunch, we gathered for our daily Recap & Briefing in The Theatre.

The following hours were simply unbelievable. Extraordinary calm and flat sea, with beautiful sunny weather though quite chilly. We were out on deck, watching out for wildlife while sailing through the Antarctic Sound – a 50 km long and 11-19 km wide water separating Joinville Island from the Antarctic Peninsula. We enjoyed several extraordinary humpback whale sightings, magnificent tabular and other icebergs, Adelie penguins, Weddell seals and crabeater seals on ice-floes, many Adelie and a few gentoo penguins in the crystal clear water, spectacular snow-covered mountains, scenic glaciers, and all that in an exceptionally beautiful light. The day just couldn’t be better.

Consequently, our First Timer cocktail party was moved to the sundeck where many of us enjoyed not only the shelter from some wind on the foredecks, but also a glass of Glühwein, which warmed up a bit after being out on the decks for several hours. Thereafter, I continued wildlife watching on the outer deck, briefly interrupted by a quick dinner postponing this log until after being out on the foredeck until after midnight, enjoying the spectacular light as well as a flock of snow petrels and a single blue-eyed shag. Close to midnight we got excited by three large birds on an ice-floe far out thinking we had discovered emperor penguins. However, after the Captain sailed closer, it turned out that they were resting giant petrels. Our long day ended long after midnight but it was well worth doing because such days are extremely rare in this part of the world and it is such a privilege being out here in such a spectacularly wild and pristine region.